This must be the place: You are the rock on the riverbed, growing smoother every year
Sunday morning. Sunshine and blue skies piercing through my dusty bedroom window. I’ve been up an hour or so. And yet, I can’t seem to fully fall back asleep. I keep trying, but remain in this dreamlike state, that void between the waking world and the depths of your subconscious.
The laptop near the bed is quietly radiating the sounds of Grace Potter & The Nocturnals. It’s a live show recording from Feb. 18, 2006, captured at the Paradise Rock Club on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston, Massachusetts.
Rolling over in bed to turn up the volume of the stereo, I catch eyes with the show date ticking across the screen and it hits me: How can that be 15 years ago? Where has the time gone? Where have all those greatly missed faces and places disappeared to?
Feb. 18, 2006. I attended that show. Turning 21 years old earlier that month, I was a junior at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut. As a lifelong music freak, I’d be at shows every weekend, usually nearby at the legendary Toad’s Place in downtown New Haven.
Back then, I kept hearing about this badass new rock band out of Vermont, hailing from my native Champlain Valley: Grace Potter & The Nocturnals. People said it was like Bonnie Raitt or Susan Tedeschi fronting Crazy Horse, this melodic intersection of rock, blues and soul. Sold. Count me in.
Sitting in my cramped dorm room, I cruised around on my laptop in search of performances to catch around “The Constitution State” and greater New England. A show listing popped up for The Nocturnals at the Paradise. I jumped on the $15 ticket. A week later, I skipped class and jumped into my 1998 Isuzu Hombre pickup truck, bolting out of campus and onto the highway: Interstate 91 to I-84 to I-90 and right into the heart of Beantown.
Feb. 18, 2016, was a life-changing show, whether or not I realized it at the time. Nothing was ever really the same in the trajectory of my existence after that night, personally and professionally.
The Paradise is such a crazy spot, this Mad Max “Thunderdome” style venue. Multiple levels. People stacked all over the place surrounding the small stage. Walking in, I grabbed a beer and stood in the back. Sold out show. Packed house. Grace & Co. waltzed onstage and launched into “Nothing But The Water.”
Grace stood alone at the microphone and howled the introduction of the song, her trusty tambourine echoing across the raucous room. Soon, the rest of the group exploded into sound and purpose as the tune unfolded. It was staggering. The band’s presence was incredibly mesmerizing.
By the end of the show, I had worked my way to the front of the stage and remember vividly standing at the feet of Grace during “Stop The Bus.” In that moment, I would have followed that band to the ends of the earth. And I did, I really did for a period in my 20s.
That night shifted my mind into genuinely pursuing journalism, especially in the realm of the written word in reference to live music. At that time, I’d only been toying with the idea for a little while, doing small album reviews and such for the school newspaper, the Quinnipiac Chronicle.
Witnessing The Nocturnals at the Paradise flipped on some sort of switch within my mind — sparking this deep ambition and unrelenting passion — where I left the Paradise performance eager to write about what I saw and heard: to share my thoughts on it with the world, or at least whoever would stop and read what I had to say.
By that summer of 2006, I had miraculously (more so, serendipitously) gotten an internship with the now-defunct but dearly missed State of Mind Music Magazine in Burlington, Vermont (across Lake Champlain from my hometown of Plattsburgh, New York). Initially, I spent my time with them delivering heavy boxes of magazines to local/regional bars and venues, transcribing endless interviews, and browsing through a pile of albums from record labels for possible review.
But, eventually, the gracious editor/publisher, Mike McKinley, started letting me write short album reviews and attending Vermont music festivals throughout the summer as a representative of the magazine. He also taught me everything I know about writing, the main (and most important) point being “write what you feel, be honest with the reader.” Is this what you truly want to say? If not, what would you actually say?
That fall of 2006, during my senior year, I returned back to the Paradise to see The Nocturnals again. But, this time, I circled back in my new role, as a music journalist. It was my first real deal show assignment.
I was still 21 and the band wasn’t much older, maybe just a couple years or so. We were all so young, and so new to the music industry. This was before all the chaos that would come later on down the line. Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. We were all standing at the starting line of our careers, our eventual fates.
It’s crazy to look back on all that, onward to where we all stand today. That original band from Feb. 18, 2006, is no more. Old members left. New members came into the fold. Big money contracts. Creative differences. Divorces. Some members still play music. Others left the business completely. And so on. The usual gauntlet of things in the music industry for an act on a meteoric rise, sadly.
Seems like a million years ago. Seems like yesterday. I followed the Nocturnals all around America, seeing them onstage in San Francisco, Jackson Hole, Denver, Michigan, Maine, etc. Each show was as awe-inspiring as the next — those fleeting, magical moments in time, onstage and off.
I’m also thankful that my ol’ buddy Scott Tournet (former Nocturnals guitarist and founding member) and I have stayed in touch, remaining friends all these years later. We continue to cross paths every so often when he passes through Asheville with his latest project, this whirlwind of rock and world fusion music dubbed Elektric Voodoo.
That, and the music of The Nocturnals remains, as it always does within songs immortal that are written across the walls of your heart and soul. Turn up the stereo and let the musical time machine take you away once again.
Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all.